Northern Ireland’s health minister has welcomed an increase in the number of cleared coronavirus outbreaks in care homes.
Robin Swann said care homes remain “at the forefront” of the battle against Covid-19 as he announced a £11.7 million support package for the sector.
He revealed that almost 50% of staff (7,600) and residents (6,600) have been tested for the virus.
“My target… is that I want this done by the end of June… then we are looking at a rolling cycle,” he told the Executive’s daily media briefing.
According to Department of Health statistics there remain 71 active coronavirus outbreaks at care homes in Northern Ireland, along with 36 suspected and 60 cleared.
“Thankfully the number of closed outbreaks at homes is still continuing to grow,” Mr Swann said.
The new funding package is set to pay staff 80% of their salary when on sick leave for Covid-19 related reasons, as well as providing support with cleaning costs and the provision of specialist equipment.
Mr Swann also announced a rapid learning initiative to ensure “lessons are learned locally, nationally and internationally”.
“I am on record as saying that we need to take a long hard look at how we as a society provide social care,” he said.
“Covid-19 has brought home to us all the pressing need for reform and investment in this sector.
“This is about the start of the reform of our social care system. We now have to take the responsibility of how we look after the most vulnerable to the next stage.”
Chief social worker Sean Holland also appeared at Tuesday’s media briefing.
He called for the funding package for care homes to be the “beginning of a programme of investment” for the sector.
“This pandemic has drawn wider attention quite rightly to care homes, and the experience of staff working, the residents who live in them and their families,” he said.
“When we come out on the other side of this pandemic we cannot as a society afford to lose that focus.”